The Myth of Opportunity of Equal Education in America

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On April 18th, 2013, guest lecturer Michael Paris gave a presentation on the “death (and possible life) of school desegregation” in the United States.  His presentation centered on the Connecticut court case of Sheff v. O’Neill, which is surprisingly not as well-known in the public sphere as one might think, especially considering it produced the only recent decision in which the Court made a statement on government’s role in providing its citizens with the right to an equal education.  The plaintiffs in Sheff vs. O’Neill, charged that the combination of racial isolation and concentrated poverty that plagues Hartford, and various other cities in the United States, prohibited urban students from getting the opportunity to an equal education.  In 1995, the Court ruled against the plaintiffs, but just one year later, that ruling was reversed by Connecticut’s Supreme Court in 1996.  The Supreme Court argued that the plaintiffs had the right to an equal education but did not have the right to racial integration in Connecticut schools.  Additionally, the Court did not offer any solutions or recommendations on how to eliminate the unequal educational opportunities that urban students of Connecticut face from early childhood and on.  Since the landmark decision of Sheff v. O’Neill, Connecticut has seen a rise in the popularity of inter-district magnet schools and urban-to-suburban transfer models that aim to give students an equal education and close the achievement gap in the process.  Several interesting questions were raised during Paris’s lecture.  One student asked why magnet schools and urban-to-suburban transfer models were being implemented, but wide-scale reform of the Hartford Public School system was not being used as a means to achieving equal opportunity for citizens.  Also, Trinity College professor Jack Dougherty asked why current educational reform measures have focused more on racial integration than socio-economic integration, the latter being perhaps the most effective tool progressives could use to fix the dire problem of education in America.